by Jeremy Mac
The aerial overview of the jungle below was remarkable. Professor Hale pointed out landmarks and explained them all with the tenacity and enthusiasm of an overzealous child. Most of the fascination came from the fact that virtually every topographical contour in the primordial forest was created not by geological and environmental forces but by the vanished inhabitants of one of the world’s foundational civilizations. Vincent Vick recognized most of the landmarks from the book, articles and video documentary he researched prior to the trip, but nothing could compare to the real thing. There just below were what appeared to be volcanoes rising out of the limestone lowlands, but both men knew this not to be the case; those were pyramids built more than two thousand years ago, now half swallowed in vines, trees and shrubbery, as if the forest’s vegetation were trying to hide the last traces of this lost society.
Soon their helicopter landed on a grassy clearing, and while unloading their light load, Vincent said to Hale, “You do fully understand the repercussions?”
Hale gave a brief nod, and as he did so he allowed his eyes to close lazily with a slight grin on his face. The kind of gesture made only by those who feel they are more in the know than the one who is more than qualified to relay the required knowledge.
“Yes, Mr. Vick, I do fully understand the repercussions. You made them quite clear earlier today. But tell me, if I were to now suddenly change my mind, would you reimburse me my money? Travel expenses and all?”
“Is there a chance you may change your mind?”
An exaggerated laugh, and not even a good one. Hale pulled a lot of strings to make this happen, from the hiring of Vincent Vick to the public vacancy of the ruins for the next three days. His life’s work depended on the entire thing. It was literally his Event Horizon.
“Not a chance,” Hale said adamantly.
“Then it doesn’t matter. We do it tomorrow, and we’ll need to be at your ideal spot at dawn.”
Both men hoisted their luggage over their shoulders and made the trek toward the ruins.
“And I’ll have two days?” Hale said.
“Exactly forty-one hours is all I can promise you. So I’m sure you’ll want to make the most of it, which is why you’ll want to arrive in the early morning hours. After all – although I don’t know much about them, other than what I’ve read up on them for the last month – I’m sure they weren’t late risers.”
Hale’s weathered face lit up, the deep laugh lines around his mouth blooming like two huge parenthesis. “Ah, so you have gotten to know my beloved people. So tell me, what do you think of them?”
Slight shrug. “Interesting people.”
“Interesting people,” Hale retorted, as if personally insulted. “How much research did you do?”
“I read one book, plus several articles and essays, and I viewed a couple of video documentaries that I found on the internet.”
“And ‘interesting’ is the best you can describe them?”
“Let me explain something to you, Professor. With all due respect to you and your work, I am here for one reason only, and being well educated, or even slightly informed, on the details of these people is not a part of that reason. Any research I do as part of the event is strictly out of necessity and/or curiosity on my part, and that is it.”
Hale stopped where he was, holding up a neutral hand, nodding his head. “Yes, yes, I understand, Mr. Vick. Truly I do. But it’s simply that these people were beyond interesting. They were of the most sophisticated people economically, culturally and socially the world had known at that time in history. We’ve found potsherds with colors and the waxy telltale feel of the Chicarel style which dated the temple to two centuries before Christ. We’ve found causeways dating back one thousand to four hundred B.C. that are part of the very first freeway system in the world.”
Hale’s tantric passion for the subject, coupled with his unruly white hair and wide, intense blue eyes capturing Vincent’s own eyes in a snare-like hold and then suddenly casting his eyes wildly about, as if he were searching for The Big Secret somewhere within the lush greenery around them, made him look like a mad scientist on the brink of a breakthrough.
Humored by the professor’s vim, Vincent decided to prod the old man further, and said, “Were they also not very superstitious and sacrificial?”
Hale did not falter. “Yes, indeed they were. But you must understand that during that time in history many of the world’s civilizations were equally superstitious, and believed that animal and human sacrifice to be sacred services to their gods and important rituals to uphold in order to enrich their own personal and spiritual lives. The hieroglyphics and wall paintings of these depictions are a marvel to see. But my main focus is the time just before these people even began documenting their own culture and beliefs, which is the time when I must begin.”
They walked off of the grassy clearing and entered the dense forest, Hale leading the way, surefooted within the rich, exotic flora and not once stopping or slowing to second guess his own course to evaluate a potentially better one. It was as if Hale had a built-in GPS programmed for only one path.
Although Vincent would never admit it, he was impressed, and not just by the professor’s knowledge and his obvious learned direction – Vincent had seen similar in other clients – but by the older man’s careful determination. It teetered on the edge of the possessed.
A professor of Neolithic history, and his universities archaeologist, Thomas Hale was the top scholar on the subject in the country. He’d given lectures on five continents and was published in most of the major academic journals, but for Hale there was much more to be learned, and this was the ultimate way to acquire that priceless knowledge. Retaining Vincent Vick’s services was not an easily direct nor cheap process. The man was only known in very small and secretive circles, and those who had heard of him but had never dealt directly with him or retained his service had thought him to be that of the sensationalized stories of drunken and ill-fated historians. Literally the only way to get to Vincent was by knowing somebody who knew somebody and then hoping that you would eventually receive a return message informing you that you were currently being considered. Lucky for Hale he knew somebody.
When an associate of Vincent had contacted him several weeks earlier about Professor Thomas Hale’s intention – at the time Vincent had never heard of Hale before –, Vincent treated it like he would any other prospect by making a full-scale investigation of him, dissecting his family’s entire history up to the present day. Vincent was extremely leery of any client, there were those whose lives were so questionable that he could not risk awarding them one moment of time much less forty-one hours, but for those he had allowed to retain him, well, in the end each client was gratified in one way or another. Once Vincent was satisfied that the professor was simply a harmless romantic for the past, which was what many of his clients amounted to anyhow, Vincent awarded Hale his service.
It wasn’t long before the jungle’s heat caught up with both men and their shirts began to stick to their backs. By early evening their jaunt ended and they emerged into open ground. Immediately Vincent recognized many of the limestone structures, and not just from the inflight overhead view, but from his previous research back in the states.
Hale took a moment to admire the panoramic view before saying, “Here we are, Mr. Vick. The Mayan ruins.”
Hale gave Vincent a brief but very energetic tour, and by dusk they made camp just beyond the perimeter of the ruins.
Sitting by a camp fire outside their tents while sipping Hale’s special herbal tea and snacking on crackers, the two conversed lightheartedly, now and then going silent to listen to and admire the occasional caw of a night bird or the call of an exotic animal. Vincent imagined the creatures that may be lurking out there, perhaps watching him this very moment. Once in a while he would look up and around, expecting to see but also hoping not to see the sudden glow of feral eyes to appear amidst the stark blackness of the forest around them.
Sensing Vincent’s unease, Hale said, “I wouldn’t worry about anything attacking us. As long as we keep the fire going, anything out there will stay out there.”
“If you say so.”
“But by chance something troublesome does come along,” Hale patted the side of his hip, indicating the pistol there. “I’ve got reinforcement.”
Vincent noticed the moment Hale had strapped the pistol to his belt while they were making camp. Vincent understood how protection was necessary in such a remote place.
“I’m surprised you’ve never done this for someone before,” Hale said. “I mean, here, in a jungle like this.”
“A lot of different forested areas. But no, nothing this exotic.”
“How many people have you done this for? In general?”
Realizing that he would receive no further information there, Hale chose another route.
“They all must have such great stories to tell. But then again, I’m sure you do as well.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, I’m sure you have, you know, probably have gone. . .” Hale fluttered a hand in the air.
Vincent understood what he meant. He gave Hale a little smile, and said, “No, I haven’t.”
“You haven’t.” Hale’s face dropped in disbelief. “You must be joking.”
“No, I never have.”
“I’m not able to.”
“Why aren’t you able to?”
Vincent shrugged his shoulders, like a child who couldn’t seem to understand. “I don’t know. I just can’t. But believe me, it’s not from a lack of trying.”
“That must be quite frustrating for you.”
“It was, in the beginning. But I’m over it now.”
“Especially since you’ve been able to make money off of it, am I right?”
“It certainly helps.”
The camp fire’s hypnotic flames held their gaze for a moment. Hale finally broke away and said, “You must think about it though. What it must be like?”
Vincent seemed as though he did not hear what Hale said, he kept staring in a trancelike daze into the flames, the fire’s glow reflected in his eyes like two burning embers of inner light. Hale kept staring at Vincent, expecting to hear, or at least see, some sort of response, but as the seconds ticked by the silence bled into an eerie cold darkness that crept up the professor’s spine. Now the roles of unease were reversed, and Hale didn’t dare utter a sound, to move an inch, to look away even, for fear it may provoke an undesirable response.
Due to the suddenness of the action, the next thing that happened nearly made the professor jump out of his skin.
Vincent shot up to his feet, lifted his cup and downed the remainder of his tea in one gulp. Vincent then held a blank gaze on Hale.
The professor’s breath caught in his throat, his body froze where he sat, and he now surely would not chance taking his eyes off of Vincent for even a second.
Then, as if blinking away a sudden burst of air in the eyes, Vincent snapped out of his dead stare, took in a breath, and said, “I’m going to retire for the evening. We have an early morning tomorrow, and we’ll both need our rest. Especially you, Professor.” Vincent ducked to enter his tent, but just before he did, he paused. He turned back to Hale, and said, “If there is one piece of advice I can give you . . . well, not really advice, more like a tidbit of wisdom, something I’ve picked up over the years, it is this. Do not let a careless instinct or an obsession drive you past your careful thoughts, for what you may think is paradise, may in fact become your own hell.”
Vincent ducked into his tent, leaving the professor to ponder both that dark tidbit of wisdom and the man who gave it.
At dawn both men carried their gear deeper into the jungle, to a certain place. It did not look significant, there were no man-made structures or telltale signs of previous habitation, only rich, untouched vegetation, but Hale regarded it as if it held secrets and powers unknown, turning his small frame this way and that way, eyes wide with rapt attention to every detail. He picked one particular area, holding both hands spread open before him, palms down, signifying the exact location.
Hale said, “This is it. This is the spot.”
“You’re certain?” Vincent said.
Vincent nodded. “Then let’s begin.”
Hale unslung his duffel bag from his shoulder, knelt to the ground, opened the bag and exchanged the clothes he was wearing with what was in the bag. He stood before Vincent and said, “How do I look?”
“Are you satisfied?”
Hale looked down at himself, checking out the sparse clothing. “I think so.”
“You think so?” Vincent said, a skeptical eyebrow raised.
Now is not the time to hesitate, Hale told himself.
“No,” Hale said adamantly. “I am satisfied. I’m positive, I am ready.”
“Alright then. Stand in front of me. Now close your eyes and relax. Once I place my hands on your head, I’ll then need you to tell me the exact year you wish to visit, and then I’ll need you to hold that same year within your own thoughts and nothing more. If you allow your thoughts to wander, it won’t work. At best you’ll receive glimpses, sort of like clips from a movie, and that is all. So I need you to stay focused. Understand?”
“Yes, I understand.”
Vincent placed both of his hands flat over both sides of Hale’s head, and the moment he said his desired year an odd pressure bloomed inside Hale’s head that quickly spread throughout his body. Simultaneously eruptions of light strobed amid waves of heat around his entire form as every fiber of his being was at once filled and consumed by searing hot radiance. Seconds later Thomas Hale, world renowned professor of Neolithic history, was gone.
Vincent unloaded his own duffel bag to make camp for the next forty-one hours, to await his clients return. He took a seat in his folding chair and opened the book that Hale had given him the day before. The book was on Mayan history that Hale himself had co-authored with a colleague. Last night, while in his tent, Vincent leafed through the book, paying special attention to the photos of the hieroglyphics and paintings. He now gave them his careful scrutiny. Every human depiction seemed to resemble each other; a basic Mayan with dark hair and dark skin, nothing differentiated one from the other. Except for one that stood out more than all the others. Vincent had looked at all of the photos the night before but did not remember seeing this particular one. He would even bet that it had not been in the book at all when he had looked through it the night before.
Vincent Vick had sent many people back in time. Very few had been able to alter history, which was why Vincent made such thorough investigations of every potential client. In extreme cases of History Alteration, in which a client happened to alter history drastically, whether they had had deliberate intent to do so or not, the client was dealt with accordingly upon their return, a return that was always forty-one hours from the moment of their departure, a maximum time limit that even Vincent had no comprehension of or control over. A Re-aligner was a person who specialized in Past Time Re-alignment, who Vincent himself personally trained, and in the wake of an extreme History Alteration, Vincent would deploy a Re-aligner into the past to realign history back as close as possible to its original plane. Time travel was a delicate business, nothing was taken lightly, and the smallest mistakes could be dire, leaving the lives of entire generations at stake. There had been times when a client’s life was lost, and Vincent knew only too well that a lifeless vessel could not occupy space within the time travel wormhole, which was why some clients never returned.
Even though the medium of art was of the most primitive, it was obvious to Vincent that the human depicted in the photo he was looking at appeared to be as out of place in that environment as a domesticated dog would be in a wolves den. The body frame, a bit smaller, the head of hair in wild disarray and devoid of color. His death on the sacrificial alter was brutal yet meticulous and unique in its savagery.
When Vincent closed the book his eyes fell on the author’s name. Yesterday there had been two names on the front cover, Professor Thomas Hale and his co-author. Now only one name remained.
Vincent Vick, Time Travel Agent Extraordinaire, packed up his and the professor’s gear. There would be no need to wait. He could not see any reason to send for a Re-aligner either; only a minor lapse in ancient history had been made, nothing to be too concerned about.
The professor and his legacy were both forever made and forever lost with his life’s work.
Jeremy Mac is a multi-genre fiction author with three novels, one novella, and several short stories and poems to his list of writing credits. His short stories and poems have been published in Horrified Press's X4 anthology, Devolution Z, Down in the Dirt, Conceit, Ascent Aspirations, The Ultimate Writer, Spontaneous Spirits, The Bracelet Charm, The Enchanted File Cabinet, Transcendent Visions, Struggle, and Dead Snakes. An avid lover of sand and sun, Mac has frolicked throughout the Gulf and Atlantic coasts, but he currently writes from Arkansas. To learn more about Jeremy Mac, visit his Facebook page @:facebook.com/jeremymac.author
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